Holy soapbox!

June 28, 2010 by Tim

The topic of the sense of entitlement amongst today’s generations (gamers specifically) is a can of worms I tend to kick over and dig around in once in a while. I know its messy, but I can’t help myself.

The general (vocalized) attitude these days seems to be one that suggests we shouldn’t have to pay money for anything. DLC is a regular offender to this outlook, as well as to a lesser extent, games that charge subscription fees.

To throw some perspective on what sparked my thoughts on the subject this time, All Points Bulletin is launching this week. While not what I would call a super-perfect, revolutionary game, it offered more than enough fun and entertainment that I preordered it to play at retail. However, my review of the game specifically is a topic for another newspost.

To sum up, All Points Bulletin is sort of like Grand Theft Auto. It’s a giant game of cops vs. robbers… online in a persistant MMO-esque world. It requires a subscription to play (either monthly or hourly) and there is no offline mode.

As a community of gamers, we’ve grown somewhat accustomed to the idea of the MMORPG… elves and dwarves in a massive world and you pay a subscription fee each month. Some still bitch, but for the most part we’re used to the concept. However All Points Bulletin is a shooter. A shooter asking for a subscription fee. While the fundamentals of structure are the same (persistant world, secure character information stored server-side, etc), because it’s a shooter and not a traditional MMORPG, I’ve seen a higher-than-average amount of complaints that they have the audacity to charge a fee.

Now let me start by making one thing clear here. Under no circumstances am I suggesting that anyone needs to like that some games charge a subscription fee. Certainly not that they need to buy a game with a subscription fee. But is a little common sense and understanding so much to ask for?

The most commonly used argument (and this extends to DLC situations) is “Why should I have to pay to play something I’ve already bought?” In response to which I generally think to myself “Umm… because that’s the way some things in the world work?”

You can buy a car, but unless you’re regularly paying to insure it and fill it with gas, you’re not going to get much use out of it. You can buy a game console, but unless you buy games or DVDs to play on it, it’s a decoration. You buy a tv and then pay monthly for cable so you have shows to watch. The concept of “shelling out cash to use stuff we’ve already bought” is nothing new. In video games, the concept is still in its relative infancy (DLC, subscriptions) but not so much that it deserves the “ohmygodwtf how dare they?!” attitude it receives.

I think its born of two mostly erroneous assumptions. A) That the gamer deserves things for free and B) that it’s only happening because the game developer/publisher are greedy bastards who want to pocket your subscription fees while laughing and killing kittens.

First of all, if a game is asking a subscription fee (and this is a generalization, I’m sure there is an exception or two) it’s because there are larger costs associated with running the game. MMOs for instance, require dedicated servers and constant manpower to monitor and respond to issues. The servers cost money each month, and the people working on them need to be paid. So your initial purchase of the game pays for the (sometimes many) years of actually creating the game. Your subscription fees pay to keep the servers running and the game updated, etc.

Some of you are thinking to yourselves “But I plays mah Counter-strikes online and don’t pay a subscription fee! Those games are FREE to play online”. You are mistaken. Just because you don’t pay for those servers, doesn’t mean nobody does (again, there are exceptions where a game company will host servers for a while after release of a game). Somebody rents those servers for their clans or public play, or whatever. Or some of them may use peer-to-peer technology to host the games.

So why couldn’t an MMO just use peer-to-peer stuff? Because as soon as you allow a user to host important files on their machines, you’ve entered the world of hacking and mods and exploits. Not to say MMOs are completely without their exploits, but you can’t just edit a .ini file and get yourself a L80 uber warrior. That important data is stored server side on the machines which, you guessed it, cost money to run 24/7.

To shift gears here slightly for a moment, I wanted to touch on another APB-related news item that caused a stir just a couple of days ago. APB features in-game voice chat. It’s a crucial element to the game (being able to easily communicate with team members while shooting). It’s always active, and it works for your team, and also like a vicinity bubble (you can hear other people nearby you in the city, even if you aren’t grouped).

It makes things very social, and in my experience, the quality of the VoIP was really good. So there’s no real need to fire up Ventrilo alongside the game, the built-in VoIP was that competant (which is usually not the case with built-in VoIP).

Anyway, as some of us are firing up our headstart accounts a couple of days ago, we see an option to purchase premium VoIP. Huh? That’s new. It turns out the Premium VoIP service is advertisement-free. Which means the basic VoIP will have advertisements.

As you can imagine, some people started to go batshit bananas. I’ll admit that I was also concerned at the time. I pictured tearing through the city with my teammates, hot on the tail of some criminals, and suddenly we’re trying to yell to eachother over a commercial for adult diapers or something. That’d suck.

But no, the advertisements will only be played while zoning into a district (so while the loading screen is up) and only once every three hours. Oh. Alright, that’s pretty unobtrusive. I see absolutely no reason to purchase a premium VoIP access just to avoid that, that’s totally easy to ignore. Apparently not.

People still went batshit bananas. Why? Because maybe once every three hours you’ll hear a commercial while you’re staring at a loading screen? So what? But no, apparently for some people, advertisements are the zombie plague, and if you listen to too many commercials your brain will melt and you’ll replace your eyeballs with testicles or something. People were talking about unplugging their speakers during the loading screen, muting in-game sound altogether and using vent instead (never mind that you have to pay extra for a ventrilo server)… all to avoid a once-in-a-while commercial?

I find it amusing that these people will go out of their way to block every single advertisement headed towards their consciousness, throw fits about the companies sending them that way, and then still sit and drool over trailers for new games, etc. What the fuck do they think game trailers are, if not advertising? What do they think E3 is, if not advertising?

Do they think these companies spend weeks of their time, and thousands upon thousands of dollars to go to E3 to… what? Show you what they’re working on because they love you and you’re such best buddies? It’s advertisement. It’s a chance for them to get hype about the new product they’re making, a chance to get you excited about what they’re doing, so that you go out and buy it when it’s in stores. It may not be ad banners or tv commercials, but the goal is the same.

Heaven forbid, people try to sell you stuff. Good lord, what on earth are they thinking. The nerve of these people. Those slimy bastards, knowing that if they advertise something, you have to march right out and buy it. If only you had some sort of tool, some sort of “free will” that allowed you to listen to an advertisement and still choose not to buy the product. Boy, wouldn’t that be so much easier than crying and bitching about the companies making advertisements in the first place.

What I’m saying, what my overall point here is, is that this industry is a business. It may be the business of games, but it’s a business just like any other, and the goal is to make money. Developers may love games just as much as we do, they may be just as passionate or even moreso than we are, and they may be making games because its what they always dreamed of and they love it more than anything in the world. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to get paid for their work. They’re not your fucking buddies, so there is no reason to act so indignant when they try to get your money, because that’s their job.

As I’ve said before, you own the most powerful weapon in this little war. Your wallet. You have the money, and developers are going to try and make the coolest, funnest game possible so that you’ll give them some of it. It’s up to you to decide whether what they’re offering is worth what they’re asking. Leave your emotions out of it. If you bitch and bitch and bitch and then buy the product anyway, you’ve shown them that the attractiveness of their game or DLC is greater than your desire to keep your money.

It’s also probably a good idea to recognize that there is a very good chance you’re in the vocal minority. If the first attempts DLC had bombed completely, companies would’ve thought twice about its viability as a possible revenue stream. But it didn’t. That shit sold gangbusters. So while the idea of paying $5-10 for new levels or characters or whatever may seem stupid to you, recognize that silent majority voted with their wallets, and won.

People always want more. And they may not want to pay for it, but most of the time they’re willing. When you buy tickets to a concert, you can get the cheap-o nosebleed seats, or you can pay more and get front row. If the demand is there, there’s money to be made, and in video games, the demand is there.

Stop pining for the days of video games where you paid $50 and you had a whole game. Those days are gone. The only reason we didn’t have downloadable world packs for Super Mario Bros is because the technology wasn’t there. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of desire to make money on Nintendo’s part.

In the face of changing technology, and piracy, the games industry needs to find alternative sources of revenue. DLC that doesn’t require the boxing and shipping costs associated with traditional retail games. In-game advertising. Subscription fees for online games with high operating costs. These things exist now, and they work, so they aren’t going anywhere. Free yourself of the illusion that your forum-bitching is going to send these ideas packing.

And realize that these are just options. Game companies haven’t taken away your right to choose whether or not to buy a game. They’ve just started offering more options for the types of games you can play and how to pay for them.

That’s my rant for the morning, enjoy your Monday!

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